I Corinthians 14. Use of the Spiritual Gifts
in the Services of the Church.

Key Notes: Ecstatic utterance vs. prophecy. Worship order. Women communicating in the early church. OT vs. NT prophecy. Montanus and death of the early charismatic movement.

In I Corinthians 12 Paul exhorts the Corinthians to seek the higher gifts. In ICor. 14 he explains what he means. He takes two of the gifts he listed in ICor. 12 and compares and contrasts them for the Corinthians. His priorities and theirs are different and explain the problems Paul is dealing with. His concern is for edification of the church through prophecy. The Corinthians are “eager for manifestations of the Spirit”, especially ecstatic utterance, speaking in tongues, which serve themselves more than the church.

The passage is easy to read and understand. Its tension derives from its connection to the charismatic movement. The charismatic movement is a large topic and its history and theology will occupy another chapter.

The chapter is in five parts
1–5  Tongues vs. prophecy
6–12 The need for clear communication
13–19 Believers sing, pray, give thanks, instruct, and edify.
20–25 Make opportunities for evangelism.
26–40 Use the gifts in an orderly way.

14:1 “Make love your aim”. Pursue love. Run after it hard. This is the punch-line of the previous chapter.
14:1” Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially to prophesy.”  The word for “desire” (have zeal) is less intense than the word for “pursue”. The Corinthians should pursue agape harder than they pursue the spiritual gifts.

14:2- Paul offers working comparisons of tongues and prophecy. He encourages tongues but even more, prophecy. We need some definitions.

14:2–5 Tongues are utterances in a language no one knows (14:9,10), which may be ecstatic but is under voluntary control. 14:27, 28
 “Prophecy speaks to men for their up-building and encouragement and consolation.” (14:3)
“Edification" (up-building) comes from the Greek word for making a house. Edification is building up the body of Christ, the House of God. The word is used six times in the chapter. 14:3,4,5,12,17,26

14:6–12 Paul puts a premium on revelation, knowledge and teaching. Tongues do not communicate and leave the speaker and listener alienated. It is better to edify the church.
14:13–19 It is good to use the mind in prayer, singing, thanksgiving or instruction.

14:20–25 Tongues will confuse the non-believer. Isa.28:11–12 was a warning to Israel that since they had rejected the prophets who spoke their language, they would have to endure the language of the Assyrians. So the non-believer, having rejected the plain word of the Gospel, will now be treated to something not understandable, a sign of rejection. If there is a general babble, they will think the assembly is crazy.

  Tongues   Prophecy
14:2 speaking to God speaking to men
14:2,3 mysteries in the Spirit up-building, consoling, encouraging
edifies the self
edifies the church
14:5 the lesser person the greater person
14:14 mind not fruitful mind productive
14:22 sign to unbelievers sign to believers, seekers

14:26–33 This is a description of the simple worship of the early church. A hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a  tongue and its interpretation. One at a time. Edification is the objective. Two or three tongue-speakers require an interpreter. Several prophets speak while the others evaluate, and one with a revelation may interrupt. People are under voluntary control. There was not yet an established communicator, a preacher.

14:34–36 Paul sharply restrains the verbal participation of women and he will not hear objections from the Corinthians.
They are not permitted to speak.
Questions are to be answered at home.
It is a shame for a woman to speak in church.


The church at Corinth was young,and disorderly, coming out of of a debased city. The gathering of believers would likely have twice as many women as men, if our assemblies are any guide, but unlike ours, these women had had little education and could not read. Many had come from prostitution, endemic in their city. In their newly found freedom, their exuberance of new-found faith, orderly worship was difficult. Silence was mandated.

Not speaking appears to have been a general rule and not a peculiar problem of the Corinthians. Since Paul speaks earlier of women prophesying or praying (ICor.11:5), D.A. Carson believes the prohibition is against women acting as evaluators of the prophets, which is the context of the passage: “Let the others weigh what is said.” (14:29). This would dove-tail with Paul’s later instruction that women not have authority over men. ITim.2:12

In summary Paul urges the Corinthians to love Christ’s body, the church, by up-building  its members rather than enjoying themselves in ecstatic utterance. Why can’t they do both? Paul proposes that they can.

The prophetic role in the Church is generally taught as Paul describes it here: “speaking to others for their up-building and encouragement and consolation. “ (14:3). He mixes prophecy with “some revelation, or knowledge, or teaching”. (14:6). Prophecy can bring conviction to the seeker. (14:24). The prophecy is subject to evaluation by others of the group. 14:29

The Old Testament prophet had two functions: preaching the message from God and predicting the near and far future—forth-telling and fore-telling. Those who challenged the prophet were subject to judgment. No Old Testament saint dared sit in judgment on what a prophet said.

The Corinthian kind of prophecy is fundamentally different from OT prophecy, or that of the NT writers. It lacks binding authority on the church as a whole since it is subject to the evaluation of those in the group. The Church has held that with the closing of the Canon there is no further church-wide revelation. (We also believe there was no apostolic succession.) This protects us from heresies such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormonism. But does it close the door to miracles, healings, tongues, or exorcism? We hear of these things happening in areas of intense spiritual conflict, such as in Africa, where believers are battling shamans and animists.

What of our experiences of premonition, some claiming something like clairvoyance? Are these premonitions not prophetic? Some of us were driven to prayer in the two weeks before the attacks of 9/11/01. Premonition or foreboding, and anticipation should lead us always to prayer, rarely to pronouncement.

In the early Church, Montanus (170AD) believed that he had direct revelations from God through the Holy Spirit. He and two prophetesses, Prosaic and Maximilla, predicted the near end of the world. They thought the church was spiritually dead. (It probably was.) They also taught ascetic practices (no marriage, no sex, severe fasting, a dry diet). He accused the hierarchy of chasing the Holy Spirit into a book (the Bible) by trying to limit divine inspiration to apostolic writings. However, in one of his speeches, Montanus said “I am the Lord God, born among men. I am neither an angel nor a priest. I am God the Father, come to you.” The bishops read him out of the Church. It was probably the first church schism. After that, charismatic expression died out, only to reappear in little flashes centuries later. (The Story of Christian Theology. R.E. Olson; IVP,’99. p. 31–32)

In summary, we seek the communication gifts, energized by agape love, to bless the Church. He came “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” At least we can work on the wrinkles.